One Direction turns four years old today! We know: It feels like just yesterday a pre-tattooed Harry Styles was flipping his hair, earnestly ticking off the qualities that makes you beautiful. What a difference four years makes, both in the band’s looks—they’re hot now—and in their sound (“Story of My Life” has been cited by many current artists as a song they’d like to cover.)
And while we know they’re different from boy bands past—they don’t dance, wear matching outfits, or harmonize in a hand-over-the-ear way—1D certainly owes a debt of gratitude to former incarnations of bands composed of cute boys, especially those that rose to prominence in the ’90s and early 2000s throughout the U.K.
Most of these guys didn’t hit it big stateside—after all, we already had Backstreet Boys, N Sync, 98 Degrees, LFO, and O-Town—but that hasn’t stopped us from listing the 8 best boy bands from the UK. And by best, we mean good for the time.
Read on for a time capsule of epic proportion!
These four Irish lads became a boy band in 1998, after they were signed by Simon Cowell. Known mostly for ballads, Westlife had pretty steady levels of popularity in the UK—although their hit “Swear it Again” had mild airplay in the US in 1999—before officially disbanding in 2012.
Big hit: “Swear it Again”
This pop-meets-R&B boy band formed in 2000, and had all three of their albums peak at number one in the United Kingdom. Their sound, by today’s standards, is hokey. A lyrical example of their hit Fly By: “What a night
So far/Pullin up curb side in your car/What a sight you are/Think I know somewhere we can park.” Poetry of the early Aughts.
Big hit: “All Rise”
One of Britain’s OG boy bands, East 17 was formed in 1991 and have had 18 Top 20 singles and four Top 10 albums. At the time, they were considered unique for inserting rap verses into their songs, and for their oddly dramatic videos, like the below.
Big hit: “Let it Rain”
If you followed pop music in the late ’90s, you know 5ive’s hit “When the Lights Go Out” (though you probably have to hear it to remember it.) It got some play in the U.S., but the group—formed in 1997 by the same team that managed the Spice Girls before they launched their career—never broke into America beyond that. They split up in September 2001 after selling 20 million records worldwide.
Big hit: When the Lights Go Out
Probably the most famous British boy band before One Direction, these five guys—including Robbie Williams, who went on to have a solid solo career—were huge internationally throughout the ’90s. Like others before them, this group had minimal success in the U.S. despite talk show appearances and airplay for their big hit “Back for Good.”
Big hit: “Back for Good”
So what if their name is lame and their biggest hit sounds like an outtake from “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”? These Irish guys were really cute, and became one of the most successful bands in Ireland and the United Kingdom.
Big hit: “No Matter What”
Not nearly as successful as some of the others on this, Let Loose started out in 1993, and scored some success on the UK Singles Chart with two singles “Crazy For You” and “Seventeen.”
Big hit: “Crazy for You”
Another band you probably never heard of but might know their big hit “I’ve got a Little Something For You,” which was one of P. Diddy’s earliest Bad Boy Records remixes, and appeared in the 1995 American movie “Bad Boys.” The pop/R&B boy band consisted of four members: KG, G-Man, Kule T, and Dee Tails. Succinct, no?
Big hit: “I’ve got a Little Something For You”